By Maria C. Ramos Ed.D
Their faces beamed with fond recognition as the women entered the dining room. Many years had passed since seeing each other and the sister-friends joined with warm hugs. The room vibrated with the raucous laughter of happiness in seeing how their collective “let’s do this” had brought them together from opposite coasts and several states in between. It seemed like a small miracle and felt like grace was with us. This was the joy of seeing solid, trusted friends, courageous sisters in the struggle for change.
They had joined together 27 years ago as the Black Women’s Core Team to support each other at their company. They were vanguard members of a global movement to change the structural inequalities in business resulting from demographic differences and biases that thwarted the full contribution of under-represented minorities. It was a risky endeavor to give voice to their experiences of discrimination, in order to teach the decision-makers who determined the trajectory of their careers. These women were the midwives to a new era of visibility of Black women in the corporation. They were the bearers of the torch to right the wrongs and open doors heretofore locked shut. They stood together as the demands and backlash of the corporate diversity and inclusion effort took its toll on them, individually and as a group. I was honored then to be their team coach, now I was deeply satisfied to support this reunion.
When they gathered early in May the conversation flowed as if no time had passed since last they met some 15 years ago. The dinner buzzed as the women talked about family, work and play. The contented glow of retirement shown for some as they shared travels and other leisure pleasures enjoyed now that the stress of high pressure, demanding professions had been set down. Then one by one they stood, sharing what was going on in their life. They talked about loves, loss, life transitions, career changes, and personal health. Then they shared the importance the group had for them, what they learned, remembered and how they were supported. In the Black Women’s Core Team they; strategized their next steps in speaking truth to power, encouraged each other, honed their coping skills and built each other up when corporate realities tore them down. Talk about being resilient and focused, they were the icon for all other affinity groups in the company. The reunion was a chance to reflect, rejoice in their accomplishments and give thanks for the safe haven of the team.
Later that night most of the women joined together to continue the dialogue. They shared the outrageous and absurd experiences they had at the company. Some of the experiences were new news, but none were surprising. The dialogue turned to current events especially the recent Baltimore uprising, popular culture including TV, movies and fashion. It was a sister’s night out of frank talk about the tragic and tragically funny.
The next morning’s gathering looked ahead to their anticipated life turns. Several struggled when asked to consider, what “thank you” gift they would give themselves for their courage and commitment. This may seem a bit selfish but, for this gathering of uber responsible, dedicated to family, churches, sororities, and community women, it’s not how they roll. The women became clearer about some nagging issues, pleased with the promise of the future and committed to action for their own good. Finally, in true form, they made an outreach plan to support the Black women still struggling in the company. They also created a plan to gather next year. This reaffirming reunion would happen soon – let’s do it again!